Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Old Swede in New Witten

In past posts, I’ve complained a little about people giving me directions and advice, but this one really tickled my fancy.  

I was on my way from Murdo to Dixon, and I was running low on water.  I saw a sign that said “New Witten 5 mi,”  I’d stop there for water.  Five miles later, I passed a sign that said, “Welcome to New Witten."

I thought, “Oh, here comes New Witten.”  I biked for a few more minutes, but I didn’t see a town.  So I biked back to the sign.  A gravel road ran off the road behind the sign.  "No way," I thought.

I slowly pedaled down the gravel road for half a mile.  The air was filled with that wispy, cottony stuff that comes from weeds.  I don’t know where it comes from, actually, but I imagine it’s from cattails or something.  The wispy cattail guts were everywhere.  They gave everything a foggy look.  And, then, I saw the town.  The gravel turned into dirt.  I saw some houses and a park.  Main Street consisted of four, brick buildings, side by side, with their titles engraved in the stone above the doors: Post Office, General Store, Masonic Temple, and Meeting Hall.  

What was once the Masonic Temple was now a bar.  The other buildings seemed to serve the same purpose as when New Witten was actually new back during the peak of the Roman Empire.  I parked my bike outside of the General Store.  The screen door was blowing open and shut with the wind.  I opened the door.

“Well, hello.  What can I do you for, son?” the old man behind the desk asked.  He was wearing black suspenders and a white shirt with red pin stripes.  He had gray hair..  His name was Ike, a round, jolly, old guy.

“Hi, there.  Do you have a public bathroom?”

“Well, you won’t be wantin’ to use our bathroom.  Toilet ain't workin' right.  Somebody’s clogged ‘er up.  You’ll have to go across the street, right inside the park there.”

“Thanks.” I walked towards the door.

“Hold on, ,” he said.  “You’ll probably be needin’ this, if you’ve got any serious business to do.”  He limped into the backroom of the store and brought out a roll of toilet paper.  “I’d wager them neighborhood kids dropped what’s in there in the toilet.”  

I thanked him and stepped outside, walking towards a building in the park.

“Not that way, sonny.  You want the building there on your left.  The wooden one, not the concrete one,” he shouted from just behind the screen door.  He opened the door and pointed to the wood building.
I thanked him again and walked into the outhouse.

When I came back, I brought my water bottles with me to fill.  I handed him the toilet paper and asked, “Do you know about how far it is to Dixon?”

“Well, Dixon?  There's no such place.”

“Okay.  About how far to Winner, then?”

That incited him to retrieve his map of South Dakota.  He spread it on the counter.  Once he realized that I would be travelling to Michigan, he apologized for not having a bigger map and, then, over the next forty-five minutes, explained every hill, town, river, and junction that I would encounter in South Dakota.  Ike told me exact elevations.  He told me about every restaurant in each of the towns--food prices, the tastiest dishes, the best times of day to visit.  He told me about a bakery that had good bran muffins, just in case I get stopped up.  He told me names of gas station attendants along the way.

When he was finished, I thanked him and headed out the door.  He said, “Wait a minute, son.  You’ll be needin’ to fill those bottles.”

I said, “Oh, yeah.  Yes, please.”

He took a few bottles of water from the stock shelf and filled my bottles with them and said, “This’ll do ya, and, while, yer ridin’ watch out for ticks.  This area is known fer ‘em.  There buggers to dig out.  Don’t get him in yer privates.  That’d be a helluva an itch.”  

I thanked him and headed for the door.

“Oh,” he said, “take this.  It might come in handy on the road, and you can look at it and remember stoppin’ in here.”  He handed me a mini calendar that said, “New Witten General Store.  Have Great Year, Ike and Aurdrey Erickson.”  I thanked him, again, and left.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Broke Spokes

Bout time for a status report, eh?  I’m in Belgium, Wisconsin, about 50 miles from the ferry.  Last night, I went to my first Wisconsin grocery store and was very disappointed in their cheese selection.  

Last time that I checked in, I was in Emmetsburg, Iowa, and I had just taken a shower.  Well, the shower trend continued.  I headed east out of Emmetsburg, planning to stay on the same highway all the way to the first metro station near Chicago.  But, after getting lost in Mason City shortly after my departure from Emmetsburg, I decided to alter my route to avoid large cities.  All those streets and buildings and cars are confusing.  My map isn’t that detailed.  

Somehow, after leaving Mason City, I found myself biking east on Interstate 18.  That was terrifying.  The shoulder was about a two and a half feet wide, two of those feet were taken by rumble strips.  Also, there was a 15 mph crosswind that blew me towards them.  That’s rough.  My butt is already sore from biking 2,000 miles on a stock bike seat, but, then, I was continuously pushed onto the rumble strips which feels like getting kicked in the ass a hundred times by a leprechaun that’s high on caffeine.  

I could have biked an hour to the next town on the I-18, but I couldn’t handle the stress—cars, wind, leprechauns.  So I bounced at the first exit that I found, some country road headed south.  That was good enough for me.  I biked that bad jackson for the rest of the day.  At about five o’clock, I broke a spoke, an event probably caused by all the rumble stripping that I did earlier in the day.  Greene, Iowa, was eight miles away, so I went there.  It was Sunday and Father’s Day.  Nothing was open.  I called it a day and headed for a campground.  On my way there, I saw a guy grilling in his backyard.  He had road bike in the back of his truck.  

I said, “Hi, there.  Sorry for bothering you so late in the evening.  Do you happen to have the tools to fix a bike spoke?”

“Sure do,” he said.

Dude’s name was Tim.   When he was younger, he raced road bikes in Colorado.  That was thirty years ago.  He was 54 when I met him grilling his chicken in his backyard.  I fixed my spoke, and we got to talking.  He had only been in town for 40 minutes, just returned from a year in Colorado.  He brought me a beer.  Some people stopped by to welcome him back.  We talked some more.  He threw a piece of fish on the grill for me, offered to have me stay in his house for the night, offered me a shower.  Talked some more, drank beer.  I had a nice time chilling with Tim.

Headed east in the morning.  Biked all day.  Feet hurt.  The pedals don’t seem to be wide enough for my little footsies.  I arrived in Strawberry Point.  Stopped at the grocery store.  Bought some strawberries.  Camped in the city park.

Headed east in the morning.  Biked all day.  Feet hurt.  I arrived in Maquoketa, a place that I still find hard to pronounce.  I broke another spoke.  A breaking spoke makes a horrible sound, like a chipmunk breaking its tooth followed by a twangy squeal of chipmunk pain.  The nearest bike shop was about 100 miles away.  I called Jim, Stuie’s mom’s boyfriend, my biking sensei.  He told me not to worry about it.  Hope for the best.  Ride on.  So I camped for the night at the fairgrounds, then rode on.

I’ve gone about 300 miles, now, with one less spoke.  All the other spokes are really manning up.  I owe them a steak dinner when I get back.  I stopped at a bike shop in Kenosha to replace the spoke, but the guy said he couldn’t get the gear cassette off, said I’d have to leave it for the night.  And I said, “Hell, no.  I got a date with the Badger,” or something like that.  (The Badger is the Manitowoc ferry.)

I biked from Maquoketa, Iowa to Sycamore, Illinois, and I felt good.  I stopped to eat in Oregon, Illinois at a place called PB and J’s.  I hadn’t planned on stopping there.  I was headed for a grocery store, but the restaurant looked so pringles that I had to stop there.  It was decorated with counter culture-hippie paraphernalia, posters, and whatnot.  The walls were covered with little sayings like, “Be happy” and “It’s all good.”  So I ordered a grilled, double decker, peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a milkshake, and I was happy.  Pam, the owner, brought me a free sample of fried chicken.

After Sycamore, I biked the fifteen miles to the Elburn Metra, and took the train into Chicago.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Strong Hand

I'm in Maquoketa, Iowa.  I'll be to my Uncle and Aunt's house, just south of Chicago, on Thursday night.  I'll post more words when I get there and have some time.

I have time now, but I seem to be losing strength in the fingers on my left hand.  The hand cramps up every now and then, too.  It has taken me forever to type this.  My mom thinks the hand problem has something to do with my neck and biking so much.  I think it's a sign that I need to bike more.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Into Iowa

I left Rapid City and headed towards Wall.  Cities are difficult to escape on a bicycle, doesn’t matter if they’re rapid or not.  So I didn’t make it to Wall that day.  I biked into the boondocks and camped on a church lawn.  They didn’t have service in the morning because it was Monday.  They, also, didn’t have a breakfast potluck in the morning.  That was a kick in the pants.  I would have brought trail mix, but the Lutherans wouldn’t have liked it.  It was a bad batch.  That, too, is a kick in the pants because, when you’re on a small budget and buy poor trail mix ingredients, you still gotta eat the ungodly mixture for the next three days.  Stay away from salted peanuts.

Wall was wonderful.  The town is famous for Wall Drug, a drug store that has placed signs all over the world.  Something like, “Come to Wall Drug.  5 Cent Coffee,” or, “Free Ice Water at Wall Drug.”  Some soldier brought a sign to Germany during WWII.  Now, the signs are all over the place, I guess.  I didn’t see one till I was twenty miles from Wall.  

Wall Drug is a huge tourist attraction, now.  They have singing cowboy manikins and post cards and fountains.  I bought a Louis L’Amour book at the bookstore, and I bought a giant, tin coffee cup for my camp stove.  Yass, I have a camp stove.  I’ve just been waiting to buy a cheap pot.  Stuie and I bought propone before we left San Diego, and I bought spaghetti before I left Wall.  So I had all the ingredients I needed for a delicious, warm meal.

After Wall in the morning, I biked to Murdo.  As I biked into town, a rainbow appeared on the horizon, the remnants of a passing storm.  It was welcoming.  The sign on the way into town said, “Murdo, We have nice people here.”  It was encouraging.  I thought, “Finding a place to stay should be easy in this place.”

But, then, I entered the town.  I asked three people about an inexpensive place to tent, one guy was watering the lawn, one lady was raking her lawn, and another lady was walking her dog.  All of them were a little crabby.  The first two people didn’t have any ideas.  They were too busy with their lawns to think about any acceptable grassy areas for tenting.  Dog Lady told me to try the hotel across the street. She told me that they have tent sites.

That hotel didn’t have tent sites.  The lady at the desk was the nicest person that I had encountered, however.  She told me that I had the wrong hotel.  I wanted the hotel down the road.  The hotel down the road wanted to charge me twenty-three dollars for a tent sight.  Ridiculous.  I explained to this new desk lady that I was on a budget of ten dollars a day, that I wasn’t trying to hustle her, that all I needed was a small plot of grassy land.  She clucked and pursed her lips and looked upset that I was interrupting her reality show that was playing on the TV behind her.

“That’s how much we charge,” she said.  “I don’t have the authority to change the price.”

“Oh, that’s understandable,” I said.  “If there is someone available that does have the authority, I’d like to talk with that person, please.”

“Well, I could get him on the phone.”

She picked up the phone and punched some numbers.  I doubt there was ever a real person on the other end.  She said a few things into the receiver in an angry grandmother tone.

“There’s a gentleman here on a bike trip.  He would like to pay ten dollars for a tent site.”  (Actually, I’d like to pay less than that.  I have to eat, lady.)

“Hello, hello?” She hung up.  “Well, I seemed to have lost him.  But he said, ‘no.’  Try the city park.”

I asked a walker at the city park if he had ever seen someone camp at the park.  He said that he hadn’t, but I could go to the police station and ask if it was alright.  He gave me directions.

The police station in Murdo is a plain, square, brick building with no signs that indicate it’s occupation of stationing police.  I spent half an hour looking for that place.  No one was there.

So I went back to the nice lady at the desk at the previous hotel.  I asked her for ideas about tenting and told her about the rainbow.  She told me that I could pitch a tent on her lawn for free.

After Murdo, I biked all day and ended up in Dixon.  Dixon isn’t really a town.  It’s a bar at an intersection with some houses around it.  It looked sizeable on the map, though.  I mean, the Dixon dot was the same size as the Murdo dot.

Ann, the owner of the bar, let me pitch my tent in the backyard.  I had a few hours of daylight, so I thought it was the perfect time to boil me some spaghetti.  And I was excited.  I gathered my ingredients, went into the parking lot, filled my giant, tin cup with water, and attempted to screw the propane onto the burner.  Propane didn’t fit.  I lugged that thing of propane all the way from San Diego.  

Ann boiled my spaghetti for me.  I sat at the bar and drank Coors and watched Modern Family.  She boiled the shit out of that spaghetti.  While eating my mushy spaghetti with watery hot sauce, people eating bacon cheeseburgers and French fries around me, I decided that I’d had enough eating on a budget.  So I ordered a burger and another Coors and I felt good.

Felt good the next day, too.  Since then, I’ve been getting down with food, and I’ve had more energy than I’ve had all trip.  This was nice to learn.  The other day, I ate three bagels, two doughnuts, and two muffins in one sitting.  And I didn’t think, “Man, this is expensive.”  I thought, “I need this fuel to survive out there.  This custard is delicious.”

I tented at the city park in Parkston, attempted to wash myself in the public bathroom sink.

The next day, I biked out of South Dakota and arrived in Rock Valley, Iowa.  The first man I asked about a cheap place to tent gave me ten dollars and told me to go to the campground.  He had a nice mustache.

I broke my showerless streak at that campground, biked to Emmetsburg the next day, and here I am at this Emmetsburg campground.  Took a shower, today, too. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

New Record

I'm in Spencer, Iowa.  I don't have much time for you today.  I'm trying to reach my destination before the rain comes.

But good news.


I passed through the entire state of South Dakota without taking a shower!  That's six days and five nights or something like that of showerlessness, beating the old bike trip record.

Saving the environment, one armpit rash at a time!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Grizzly Encounter

Seems like every time I try to pop a squat for a quick break somebody is trying to have a conversation with me.  I can’t sit down in a McDonalds to use their wifi and enjoy a bottle of stolen Powerade without having a forty minute conversation with some retired farmer eating an ice cream cone or a sixty-year-old janitor wiping down the tables.

People like giving me advice about my journey.  They ask me a few questions about who I am and where I’m going, then they spend the rest of the conversation telling me what highways to take and cautioning me about the dangers in the area.  These concerned citizens are nice, sometimes.  It’s nice that they are concerned.  But, sometimes, they’re a pain in the ass.  I’ve heard as much about mountain lions in the last few days as I would have if I watched an Animal Planet special about them.  The mountain lions don’t scare me as much as the rattlesnakes, though.  Every gas station attendant between here (Platte, SD) and Hulett, Wyoming has given me advice on how to kill the little guys.  I just wish I would have packed a shovel, a lasso, or a magnum.

Also, people love telling me about all the hills I’m going to have to climb.  They don’t say, “Aw, what a scenic ride it will be.”  They say something like what the table wiper at the McD’s in Rapid said:  “Dear Lord, boy, do you know how many hills you’re gonna have to climb between here and Wall?”  It’s usually said with some mixture of amusement, excitement, and earnestness, like the information will make me change my plans.  And I think, “I’ve climbed the Black Hills, the Rockies, and the Big Horns.  Make me a McFlurry and wipe that table over there”

Well, now that I’m over the hills and I’m about out of rattlesnake country, mountain lion country, and grizzly country.  Let me tell you about that grizzly that I saw in Yellowstone.  I’ve been saving the story until I was well out of Wyoming, as I didn’t want to concern anyone about my well-being.  

I was riding The Mango Sentinel towards Sylvan Pass, on my way out of Yellowstone, and I saw a group of vehicles parked alongside the road.  It was about time that I thought that I’d reach the pass.  I thought that these cars were waiting to go through it when it opened.  I wanted to hitch a ride at that point, so I decided to stop and see if I could find a ride.

I bicycled to the first car that I saw occupied.  Most people were out of their cars, looking over a ledge at the side of the road. 

 “Hi, there.  You guys waiting to go through the pass?” I asked.  

“No.” the guy said. “There’s a bear over there.”  

“Oh.  Do you know how far to the pass?”

“It’s about four miles up the road.  There’s a bear right over the ledge there.”

“That’s why all these people are stopped, eh?”

“Yeah, there’s a bear right over there.”

So I decided to look at the bear.  Apparently, one was in the vicinity.  I walked to the ledge.  The ledge was one of those cement deals that the road people need to build when the elevation drops on the side of the road.  It was concrete, provided support against gravity, and support against cars driving off the cliff.

I stood there, peering over the side of this ledge with probably twenty to thirty other gawkers.  We looked at a grizzly bear.  I want to say that it was a forty foot grizzly bear that shot lasers out of its eyes and wore a top hat, but it wasn’t big or crazy-looking.  Brown.  Knew it was a grizzly bear from the hump on its back.  Brown bears don’t have humps.

It was a small bear, but it was damn close, probably twelve feet down and fifteen feet away.  If that thing was the Spud Webb of grizzlies, maybe even a Tony Parker, it could close in on me pretty fast.  I smelled ripe, too.  So I took a quick peep and bounced.  I didn’t want to test its athleticism.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Mighty Mac: Stu gets new wheels to cruise Cyberspace

I got a Mac. I'm using it right now as I sit in a coffee shop in Saugatuck. Saugatuck is a little town in Southwest Michigan that has a place on the top 10 coolest beach towns in the United States, and it is the only one of those ten that is not on the ocean.

The decision to buy a Mac was a tough one. There are really expensive, but every lawschool classroom I walked into was packed full of students on Macbooks, and I never saw a student with anything but a Macbook. I should have asked somebody why it was that everybody had a Macbook, but I was afraid that person would realize that I had no idea what I was doing and take advantage of me, so I just chose to assume that the reason was that Macbooks are an absolute necessity for a law student. Then I bought one.  It seems wonderful, but so far has only bettered my life insofar as it allows me to make my photos funky.  I now understand why there are so many discolored photos on facebook. For a long time, I just thought alot of people refused to part with their broken cameras.

It is an interesting question, though. I would not normally buy something simply because everybody else had one. In fact, that would be a reason for me not to buy something. However, when it comes to the gadgets I need as a student and a professional, I seem to have the opposite attitude. I'm curious how others would handle themselves in this situation. Please respond to the poll on the right to solve this mystery for me.

Stuie out.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Detour to Chicago


I'm on my way to Chicago.  I received a phone call the morning of my stay with Otis and his family, and the guy on the phone told me to stop by on my way through.  I guess I have a job interview there for some sort of restaurant-y/grocery store place.  Well, now, I need a place to stay in Chicago around the 25th.  So lemme know if you have a suggestion.  Also, I could use a suit and a shower... maybe a beard trimmer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Song of the Week, Sault Ste. Marie and Clarification of the Social Status of Certain Viruses

I have just returned to Saginaw from Sault Ste. Marie, my home sweet home. I reconnected with the engineering mastery of the Soo Locks,
the deliciousness of Peanut Butter Mackinaw Island Fudge ice cream, 
the sweet juiciness of a bacon cheeseburger,
the warm feeling of the Barbeau winds carrying the smell of the green acres across my face,
the animalistic joy of sinking a putt on a mini-golf course,
the discount sensation of fullness that comes with a meal from Frank's Place,
the overwhelming see of little tourist shop gimmicks and merchandise,
the complete satisfaction of ingesting a Chai Smoothie from Penny's kitchen, and....

...the sound of my sister having put her shoes in the drier at 7am to rouse the house.


A classic, and one that everybody can participate in producing on Sunday's jamfest.

We are still working out the details of biking the last portion of the trip into Bliss with Robbie. If you have questions, post them. Otherwise, we will continue to update and plan.

 stu out

Mt. Rushmore

The campground in Hulett had a groundskeeper named Willy.  Willy the Groundskeeper looked much like Willy the Groundskeeper from the Simpsons, except Wyoming Willy had twice the beard and a Colorado accent.  I went to the Hulett Rodeo with Melvin, the brother of Willy the Groundskeeper.  Melvin had been in town for about a month visiting his brother.  Melvin wore leather pants but didn’t own a motorcycle.  Apparently, he used to race motorcycles.  Willy and Melvin were in their late forties.  

Melvin and I got to the rodeo, then Melvin went to the bar.  I sat on the hill to watch the rodeo.  I saw Melvin about halfway through the rodeo.  He walked to the bottom of the hill, tossed me a water, and walked away. 

The rodeo was nice, not real exhilarating.  Cooler stuff has happened on Walker, Texas Ranger.  After returning from the rodeo, I chilled.  I burnt my left arm because I forgot to put sunscreen on it.  Grace brought me three hamburgers.  I had already eaten, but I ate the hamburgers anyway.  Willy stopped by to chat.  He talked to me about horse training.  

I left at about seven in the morning.  I made trail mix for the day.  So good.  I’m going to make some today, too.  Watch out Bobby Flay.  

I biked all day.  Lots of Hills.  They weren’t Black, but I used my imagination.

It got to be about 5:30 PM, and I had twenty miles or something before Mt. Rushmore.  I saw lightening in the distance.  The county was under a severe thunderstorm warning.  Flash floods, too.  I figured that I could risk getting rained on and go the distance, or I could pitch my tent and call it a day.  If Stuie was with me, we probably would have gone for it.  But I imagined getting struck by lightening with nobody around to apply any ointment, and the image wasn’t good.  I called it a day.  

I pitched my tent in a clearing a few hundred yards off the side of the road.  I threw down my last stake, and jumped in the tent, then rain started falling.  Rained for fifteen minutes and didn’t rain the rest of the night.

I fell asleep at seven.  I wasn’t even trying to sleep.  I was trying to write letters.  I woke up the next morning with a pen in my hand and my forehead on the paper.  That was 4:30 AM.  I felt well rested, so I bounced.  

Saw Mt. Rushmore.

I was exuberant when I reached Rapid City.  I’m about done with elevation, now.  And I went to Wendy’s for a Frosty.